The Clash of the Ash

Posted on behalf of Micheál Ó Muireagáin

The only thing I regret about the great progress the camogs and hurlers of our GAA club has made since its establishment in 2015 is that I’m not 30 or 40 years younger and therefore can’t be out there with them as they wield the camán with great distinction the length and breadth of Europe in search of honours on behalf our adopted city.

The modest, but well-appointed soccer facilities at Steinweisenweg, Eidelstedt which hosted the second round of the European championships held on 17th June,while a far cry from Semple Stadium, the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, Páirc Uí Chaoimh or of course the one and only Croke Park, was the venue for this truely special occasion. The unique sense of rivalry, intensity, community, and good nature which prevailed that day was something that only our ancient game could generate. This was Gaelic Ireland at its best, presenting our national sporting treasure on an international stage in a wonderful spirit of openness, friendship and solidarity.

As I returned home alone that evening, my mind lubricated by a few tasty pints of the “black stuff”, was swamped by a thousand thoughts. Somehow I kept coming back to a terrific book I had read a long time ago as a schoolboy. “The Clash of the Ash”, by Raymond Smith. This enchanting history of hurling from its earliest days up until 1972, it was as far as we had got at that stage, painted a marvellous picture of the communities, teams and players who had made hurling the magical sporting art that it remains today

By means of an enthralling series of recollections, anecdotes, songs and poems, the reader was treated to the feats of our hurling titans: the Mackeys of Ahane, Christy Ring and Glen Rovers, Dungourney’s favourite son Jamesy Kelleher featured promently, Lory Meagher of black and amber fame, the Rackards from Slaneyside, the Premier county too was well to the fore. Indeed all that delirium of Cúchulainn-like warriors. In my opinion, no publication has succeeded so effectively in portraying so vividly the unique romance and passion associated with the game.

One poem from the book remains fixed in my memory. It tells the story of a goalkeeper from Clare; Tommy Daly who also found glory with Dublin, winning four All Ireland medals with the sky-blues.

The poem may not please the literary purists, but I believe it encompasses that sense of identity, commitment and gallantry which only the GAA and hurling can conjure up.

It was penned by the redoubtable Kerry bard Bryan Mac Mahon. What would a Kerryman know about hurling, some might venture? Those who know better will point out that Kerry had claimed All Ireland laurels in 1891(the Liam McCarthy didn’t arrive until 1923), long before some of the more celebrated hurling counties were out of the traps!

It goes as follows:

Lament for Tommy Daly

On the wind’swept Hill of Tulla,
Where the Claremen place their dead,
Four solemn yews stand sentinel
Above a hurler’s head,
And from the broken north lands
From Burren bleak and bare,
The dirge of Thomas Daly
Goes surging on through Clare.

No more shall limewhite goalposts
Soar tapering and tall
Above the greatest goalman
That ever clutched a ball.
Nor yet he’ll rouse the echoes
Of ash in native air,
Nor heed the throbbing thousands
Tense with pride of Clare.

But wherever Clare does battle
And whoever guards the goal,
Whene’er the citadel is saved
The proud, the noble soul
Of sterling Thomas Daly
They shall recall and say
“God rest you Thomas Daly
On your wind’swept hill to-day”.

To think that never once again
He’ll don with lightsome air
The claret-gold of Tulla
Nor the blue and gold of Clare.
-Perhaps they’ll pray when feasts are high
And healed the wounds of fight,
“God rest you Thomas Daly
On your wind’swept hill to-night”.

The years shall silver temples
Of hurlers young and free
Till blows the long, long whistle
Of the eternal referee,
Then up the hillside lonely
They’re borne with funeral tread,
To the wind’swept Hill of Tulla
Where the Claremen place their dead.

Beyond this place of toil and tears
Beyond this plain of woe,
There is a bourne in Paradise
Where all the hurlers go,
And there in prime they’re goaling
And race across the sod
And thrill our dead forefathers
On the level lawns of God.

On the wind’swept Hill of Tulla
Within whose breast so deep
With dreams of Resurrection Morn
A thousand hurlers sleep,
And with them Thomas Daly
Four yews above his head
On the wind’swept Hill of Tulla
Where the Claremen place their dead.

Some years later I made the pilrimage to Tulla. The final resting place of one of the Banner’s most revered sons proved elusive. The hill is indeed “windswept” as the poem relates, but with the help of some friendly advice at a local hostelry, I found his grave.

“The Clash of the Ash” is long out of print. A recent cursory look in Amazon revealed a second-hand copy on offer at €140. My tattered version bears the then price of 60p, but it’s not for sale.

Raymond Smith’s masterpiece concluded in 1972. Thankfully, since then the history of hurling has continued to unfurl, in doing so enriching our lives with new heroes, great games and outstanding entertainment.

Today, the ash still clashes, but further afield than any of the GAA’s visionary founders could ever has imagined when they gathered in that Thurles hotel in 1884; in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Zurich and beyond, and thankfully, in Hamburg.

Long may it continue!